Le nove scodelle
After the enormous successes of Ravioleria Sarpi and the second “kiosk” of Chinese street food located in via Paolo Sarpi 25, in 2018 Hujian Zouh Agie opened Le nove scodelle on 4th of Viale Monza. A restaurant that offers traditional and authentic Sichuan cuisine.
When talking about Agie there is no need for presentations: fame precedes him. It is no coincidence that Le nove scodelle was another glittering success, despite having opened in the least Milanese way possible. One of the restaurant managers, Alessia, tells me that after an incredible dinner, she explains the history of the restaurant:
We opened without saying anything to anyone, without advertising us. A little like what happened at the 25th of Paolo Sarpi, not even here did we make ourselves heard. Think, we didn’t even have the sign above the door! And yet the customers, many Italians, immediately appeared intrigued by our restaurant and came forward. We thought they would not appreciate such a spicy cuisine, and instead we were pleasantly surprised. Our menu, however, indicates the degree of spiciness of each dish, so those who are not used can can try something less strong. After all, we can say that our menu is like a path.
Once the idea of opening a Sichuan restaurant was developed, Agie thought about how to present this formula. He did not want to create a trendy restaurant in the canonical sense, but a place where he could eat the home cooking, where the products were genuine and the preparations made by hand — in fact it is no coincidence that here the noodles are drawn by hand, as well as the dumplings. Alessia tells me something more about it, introducing me to Liu Hongwei as he paces back and forth from the kitchen:
Agie left for China to discover the dishes together with his partner chef Liu Hongwei, who now works here in the kitchen. Liu stayed in Sichuan for a long time, for six months. Thanks to the dense network of contacts and friendships, he was able to study dishes and preparations in the homes of ordinary people, such as mothers and grandmothers. It was not a simple undertaking, because even in China today there are many industrial preparations and looking for the original recipes is a business. Furthermore, most preparations require very long times, such as fermentation. These are techniques that nobody wants to do. But once back in Italy he started replicating the dishes with Agie, up to thirty times. Then the dishes were reduced to nine, a very important and significant number.
Nine is in fact a number that has a particular value for the Chinese. It is the sacred number of the emperor, symbol of his power. Nine was the number of bowls that were consumed during the ritual festivals, but also the number of dragons imprinted on the stairways of the Forbidden City and, here, the number of dishes on the menu.
Our menu consists of nine main dishes, all made with Sichuan cuisine spices: pepper, chives, ginger, star anise and aromatic herbs. It is a menu in constant evolution, because it changes every month. Everything is calculated to avoid wasting food, based on the service of our 42 seats. We follow the seasonality of the ingredients and our raw materials are the freshest and most historic of the Ravioleria: organic eggs from the Bargero farm in Como, chicken bred in freedom from San Bartolomeo di Viterbo, Piedmontese beef from biodynamic breeding provided by the historic butcher of Milan of Walter Sirtori, pig of the historic family-run company Valsesia of Novara, flour and white rice from the Cascina Orsine, artisan production tofu with organic soya from Italy, homemade ice cream from Alberto of Monza ice cream, cakes made according to Alberto De Marchi recipes (now chef of Wonton, ed.), Beers and live artisanal production. There is no shortage of fermented vegetables, made by us here in the restaurant.
In fact, vegetables are kept in the cellar for fermentation, which takes place in a completely natural way. Here there are two refrigerator rooms: the first with the terracotta skins for fermentation and the second for drying. Upstairs there is the restaurant, simple, basic and without frills, with wooden tables and stools all made by hand.
Once ordered, the bowls arrive all together, as happens in China. Today the menu includes three appetizers (fresh homemade tofu with soy and sesame sauce, chicken strips cooked at low temperature and marinated in chilli and Sichuan pepper sauce, seasoned and smoked pork belly with Sichuan pepper and cucumber) and three first courses (white rice, hand-drawn noodles with sesame and Sichuan pepper sauce, handmade dumplings with pork filling served with sweet-spicy sauce). The nine main dishes (ie, the nine bowls) include: kongbao chicken; head cabbage sautéed in the wok with ginger, red pepper, Sichuan pepper and crispy bacon (also in a vegetarian version); boned and floured pork ribs with ground spiced rice and steamed in the basket; homemade tofu stewed in wok with pepper, spring onion, ginger and Sichuan pepper; browned asparagus with pork ragout, dried fermented vegetables, ginger and chilli (optionally also in a vegetarian version); Wowo bread made with wholemeal flour and steam cooked, served with stuffed fermented vegetables and pork ragout sautéed in the wok with ginger and chilli (also vegetarian); sautéed salt and pepper prawns with pink salt, white pepper, rose and Sichuan; diced boned rabbit and sautéed in wok with leek, chilli and Sichuan pepper; beef in spicy soup served with seasonal vegetables, ginger, chives and lots of hot pepper. The desserts include white chocolate or raspberry ice cream and Sichuan pepper, creme caramel with Marsala.